In light of Father’s Day, I decided to share a little about my daughter’s relationship with her father.
First things first, a confession! I have recently been triggered by my 5 year old daughter, Pepper. When I say “recently”, I mean just in this past month. You see, as much work as I’ve done to better myself (the therapy, the meditation, the coaching), I still don’t have it all together. Quite honestly, I believe it’s very possible that I may never have it “all together”.
Let me walk you through this by going back to January 2015. My daughter and I were temporarily living with my father in Hilo, Hawai’i. He offered to take us in as an effort to help me save some money. Before we really dive into this story, let me start by saying that I love my Dad and will always forgive him for the things he’s said or done out of anger. But I must also say this, my father is a notoriously angry and violent person. His anger combined with my personality type are the root causes of my PTSD. I love my Dad and I looked up to him growing up, I wanted to be just like him. In my eyes he was “tough” and “not afraid of anything”. Until later in life I realized, that he’s actually a bully.
Pepper and I were happy living with my family for those couple of months. Until January 26th, 2015 came around. I remember this date, because it’s my fiance’s birthday. We were dating at the time and living separately. Just so happens, I had a day off that day, Pepper was with her Dad, and my father and I were arguing. So I figured I’d give the situation some space and made plans to make the 2 hour drive to Waikoloa to surprise Jason for his birthday. I left my father’s house without saying anything to anyone, mostly because my father and I weren’t speaking due to the argument and no one else was home. I get to Jason’s house and only his room mate is home… Jason is still at work and would be coming home within the hour. So I made myself at home, cracked open a bottle of tequila and started celebrating. About 20 minutes after I’ve had my first few drinks I get a phone call from my Dad,
“Where the f*** are you?”
“I’m in Waikoloa, Why? Is everything ok?”
“Didn’t I ask you to move this f***** cooler out of the garage?”
“I didn’t know you wanted it done right this second, I was going to do it tomorrow morning.”
“Get your ass home right now and move this cooler!”
“Dad, I can’t come home right now, I’ll do it tomorrow.”
“Come home now, or don’t come home at all!!”
“Dad, I’ve been drinking, and I’m not about to drive drunk 2 hours over the most dangerous road on the Big Island to move a cooler. If it’s okay, I’ll try and sober up over the next few hours and I can be there later tonight to move the cooler.”
“I’m giving you this chance to come home and move this cooler or you won’t have a place to live…”
Of course, this is all from memory, I don’t have this phone call recorded but I do remember it very clearly, because this is the day I had to give up my daughter for the first time in my life. As you can probably guess, I didn’t go back to Hilo that night. I knew better than to take a drive to the other side of the island while drunk on tequila. My father stood by his words and just like that, my daughter and I were no longer welcomed in that house. I had asked friends and family for places to stay but they all rejected me… So I had no choice but to move in with Jason, a guy that I had only been dating for about a month. I barely knew this man, and he had a room mate that I didn’t know so well at the time. It didn’t sit right with me to have my 3 year old move into a house with me and live with 2 somewhat strange men. I know I couldn’t have her there. I called Pepper’s father, explained the situation to him, and from then until the beginning of June 2017, she lived with him and his family in Pepeekeo. I made the 2 hour drive every single day off I had and went to see her. It was the hardest part of my life and my truest moment of “rock bottom”. I lost a lot of sleep and cried many nights, which also hindered the relationship between Jason & I. It was a lot of baggage for a 1 month relationship. This experience is what prompted me to seek therapy, as a last resort. I was one of those “I don’t need a stranger to fix my problems. Why would I pay a stranger to ask me how I feel?” kind of people. Arrogant, I know.
But I went. I made a promise to myself that I would take this time to better myself. I continued therapy, even though I wanted to quit most times, Jason encouraged me to keep going. I used my time away from Pepper to learn how to better manage my PTSD.
In those two years I went from having a part time/on call job scrubbing toilets at a hotel, renting out a room in a house full of lizard shit, that was way too small for a family.. to being hired into a full time position for a local company that offered me higher pay, set days off, whatever days off I wanted and a position that I was passionate about, Design. I now live in a 2 bedroom condo at least 10x bigger than the room I rented. The condo comes with an excellent maintenance crew, a pool, a hot tub, and a really nice property manager. Not to mention it’s only about 15 minutes away from some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. We have been here for a little over a year and a half now.
I felt this was stable enough. I was confident that this would be my new foundation, I was ready to bring my baby girl back home.
June 2017, Pepper came to live with me and Jason. She has established a very trusting relationship with Jason over the past 2 years of visiting during the weekends. Jason and I knew that Pepper moving in with us would mean separating from her father. A sad and heartbreaking thought. Pepper has a very loving and caring father who plays a very active role in her life. I feared that he would hurt the way that I did. We knew & expected that sometime’s she’d cry for him, sometimes she’d ask to go back to daddy’s house… and all we could do was comfort her, and assure her that she would see him again soon.
After 3 weeks of Pepper constantly telling me, “I miss Daddy, I want to go to Daddy’s house.” The moment came where I felt anger in my heart, the moment I was triggered by my 5 year old. A sense of abandonment came over me and I started to make up stories in my head. Such as “Am I not enough for her? Am I nothing to her? Does she love me less than she loves him? Has my relationship with my daughter been diluted so much that I no longer matter to her?” Of course I never said these things out loud and Pepper never did claim these statements. Which is why I recognized that it was just something I was making up to feed my anger. After a few breathing exercises and coaching myself about it; I assured her that I would never take her away from her father and that she would always see him again. I told her how it made me sad to hear that she missed her dad. But still, she would complain about his absence.
I decided to seek some advice and posted a status on Facebook, I also shared this screenshot on my Instagram:
That night, a little over a dozen people private messaged me and shared their stories about what it’s like when their children miss the absent parent. That may not seem like a lot, but to me, it was an abundance. I noticed that most parents never went through that “Does my child love the other parent more?” phase. So I know it was just me being my crazy self. I also noticed that most of these parents shared one main concern: That their children know that no matter what, they are loved. I even received some tips on how to get children through this hard part of life.
I would say the two most effective tips that have already started working with Pepper are:
- Having Pepper start a journal. Every time she misses Daddy she can grab her journal and draw a picture for him. She is able to take this journal to her father’s house and share her drawings with him, to show how much she’s missed him. This better helps her release her emotions.
- Use a calendar. I have a large wall calendar in our home that now has a count down to show how many days until Pepper can see her dad. So she always has something to refer to and she knows she will see him again.
I am happy to share that she has been more comfortable living with her Mommy since we’ve implemented these new tools. The featured image of this blog shows a painting Pepper made for her Dad while here at Mommy’s house. I no longer question if my daughter loves me more, or loves her father more. I know she loves me, all she needed was my guidance to help her with her emotions. I made sure that Pepper knows her needs are heard and cared for. Even though my PTSD made it hard for me to understand, my readers & close friends helped me to realize that Pepper was not trying to hurt me, but was seeking someone to heal her hurt. I wouldn’t have been able to do this had I not asked for help… So thank you, to all who shared your stories with me and helped me get through this.
I am definitely counting this as a team effort win in my book. I welcome anyone who has any other suggestions or stories to share to please email me or comment. Any feedback is always appreciated.
“It takes a village.”